We met Yoko Ono at dinner one evening many years ago in New York. We offered her a lift home, and she invited us up to the apartment in the Dakota. Nick reverently played John Lennon’s piano, while I accompanied Yoko to the kitchen to make cocoa for everyone. She’d just had one of those glass fronted refrigerators installed in the kitchen, and spoke of how she spent a great deal of her days “art directing” the contents, and would then sit there admiring them for a bit, before starting the process all over again.

Invited back to the Dakota for cocoa

Invited back to the Dakota for cocoa

I’m afraid this is one of my “do as I say, not as I do” posts, since I am in dire need of organizing my own cupboards at the moment. I can blame it all on my busy schedule, or whinge and moan that I work in the kitchen all day, so I don’t want to spend my down time in there too, but the truth of the matter is a well organized kitchen will shave kitchen duty time for everyone, and help ensure the food you make is it’s very best. I can also adjust my “tude,” and look at it creatively like Yoko to make it more enjoyable.

Sure you could assign the chore to your cleaner, better half, child, or a roommate depending on your circumstances, but this is one task I recommend doing yourself. You  should know exactly where your potential ingredients, pots, pans, and containers are. That way you know what you’ll need to add to your grocery list, and be able to grab what you need quickly when you are in the flow of cooking multiple meals at once with the Personal Chef Approach™

Schedule the time - you will be more likely to get it done!

Schedule the time – you will be more likely to get it done!

I start by making a date with myself to get this done. That’s right, schedule the time by putting it on your calendar, and making it a priority. Okay, so maybe you move that date a couple times due to more pressing matters, but seeing it there in writing somehow makes it harder to ignore. Of course you could do your kitchen spring clean all in one morning or afternoon, but since my time really is at a premium at the moment,  I have another system of breaking it down into 3 week by week stages. It’s not quite so overwhelming that way, and anyone can find one hour a week!

I like to start with the most perishable foods first, which means the refrigerator and freezer, so we’ll cover that in just a few steps this week, and start work on cupboards next week. I make sure to go through and clean my refrigerator at least once a week, so repeat that part of this step with the subsequent weeks, and make it a habit.

Label your food

Label your food

1). One very important step of the Personal Chef Approach™ (PCA™) is labeling your food before storing. I do this for clients with the date it’s cooked, plus a date it should either be eaten or frozen by. My general rule of thumb is seafood should be eaten or frozen within the first 48 hours, and I recommend everything else is frozen within 72 hours, but can be eaten up to 4-5 days after it was cooked (the sooner you freeze cooked and cooled food, the better the integrity of the meal will hold). Start with tossing out any uneaten meals that are past that freeze by date, and anything past it’s “use by” date, smelling, or looking distinctly undesirable – no one likes a smelly fridge, and I’d rather be safe than sorry when it comes to food borne illnesses! Then thoroughly clean and disinfect any spills for the same reasons.

3). Before replacing all of your containers and bottles of  condiments, quickly check that they are not out of date, and toss the ones that are. I like to keep most of these on the door to reserve room for my PCA™ meals on the shelves.

Everything has it's place

Everything has it’s place

4). Know where and why you organize various food products:

  • Raw meats should go in the bottom of the fridge, usually there is a drawer for this, because you do not want bacteria leaking from your chicken into the strawberries your going to eat raw. Some foods have got to be cooked to kill the bacteria growing on them, rinsing alone will not do the trick.
  • The larger, low humidity drawer above that is where  you should store your fruits and vegetables that emit gases (ie, apples, pears, peppers etc.) that cause them to ripen and eventually spoil. The low humidity setting will leave a window open so those gasses can escape to help prolong their freshness. The high humidity crisper drawer should be where you store anything that will wilt (i.e.. spinach, lettuce, basil etc.), because water vapor is held in with the window closed, and keeps them fresher and crisper longer.
  • Now store all your prepared food in their containers on the shelves above, and any liquids (ie. milk, cream, buttermilk etc.) that require more height on the top shelf.

5). Contrary to popular belief, freezing food does not preserve it forever. Ideally, I recommend clearing through your freezer monthly, but in reality I do it every three months, being careful to check the date I froze things as I pull them out for use. Also, be sure to store your raw foods in the bottom part, and cooked foods above to avoid cross-contamination from any leakage.

You will want to clean out both your refrigerator and freezer as rapidly as possible, keeping the doors shut to avoid losing the frigid temperatures. Unless you have a Sub Zero (which are much more expensive, because they have separate generators for the fridge and freezer), leaving the door open to the refrigerator for a prolonged period will heat up the freezer too. Thawing food slightly and refreezing can cause freezer burn, and compromise both the flavor and texture of stored food.

The final cupboard frontier

The final cupboard frontier

Next week I’ll get to work on my spice and baking cupboards, then cupboards and drawers that store pots and pans, small appliances, plates, glasses, and utensils the week after. Are you with me? What state is your kitchen in, and what systems do you like to use to keep them organized?

* I think of Yoko and giggle every time I start my spring cleaning.  I originally wrote this post last year, and while I did go through and clean all my cupboards, I never got around to posting about it as planned. Since it’s been so long, I think the best place to start is with your refrigerators again, and next week I promise to write about doing out all your kitchen cupboards as well, so we can get this chore done together.

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  • March 29, 2013
    1:12 pm

    Julie Anne,

    This post came at a time when I am going through this very process right now. I emptied out every single cabinet in my kitchen and now I’m sorting, purging, and trying to put things back in a way that makes more sense. I have baking stuff next to the stand mixer, coffee cups and coffee near the coffee maker, etc. I’m shocked at how much Tupperware I own and embarrassed to have found three kitchen timers, three rolling pins and five Pyrex measuring cups. Yikes! This is going to feel so good when I’m done, and I’ll want to cook more.

    • March 29, 2013
      2:32 pm

      It always feels so good to be organized, doesn’t it! Think of all that extra space you’ll have now Janna!

    • March 31, 2013
      5:19 pm

      I’m impressed Janna – now you’re motivating me to do another cupboard.

    • May 18, 2014
      10:09 am

      Janna – all that tupperware can come in handy! You can nest from largest to smallest rounds and squares (separately), stacking with lids on as you go to make more space.

  • March 29, 2013
    2:30 pm

    Fantastic fantastic fantastic! I try to clean the fridge once a week.. usually the day before the shop but that’s not always possible and I never thought about checking condiments so HUGE point there!

    I can’t imagine making cocoa with Yoko Ono or playing John Lennon’s piano and that glass front fridge is absolutely drool worthy!

    • March 31, 2013
      5:18 pm

      I’ll bet you do a little art directing of your own, Rachel – judging by how beautiful your cakes are.

  • March 29, 2013
    3:43 pm

    This blog entry is definitely appreciated! I am getting ready to move in a couple of months and have already planned my kitchen purge. I plan to donate any non-perishable foods to my local food pantry and small appliances/dishes/cookware to a nonprofit organization that helps formerly homeless families rebuild their lives. This is going to be great!

    • March 31, 2013
      5:16 pm

      Such a great idea to donate to the local food bank, Tonia!

  • March 31, 2013
    4:47 pm

    I’m a house cleaning machine! It’s actually rather OCD and I’m always trying to convince myself to let things slide. Like Yoko, it’s about the art, the order, the style, the staging, for me. I don’t mind dishes in the sink, but I might pass out if my coffee mugs are turned “handle out” in my open front shelving. :) To maintain order I keep things separated. The spices I use the most are in a glass serving dish next to the stove, my baking supplies occupy one side of the hutch, canned goods, cereal, condiments etc occupy the other. I keep one large drawer for rice and pasts, fresh fruit goes into big pretty bowls (often my dining room centerpiece) and dishes, serving ware, utensils, pots, pan etc. all live in the butler’s pantry. Keeping everything in a designated space allows me to take inventory with just a glance. Using the PCA keeps my fridge beautiful. I’m only buying what I need for the week. At the end of the week, my fridge is literally almost empty. I LOVE it! Probably the biggest tip to maintaining order is to avoid bulk purchases and over buying. Gotta go, I need to go clean something! :) haha.

  • March 31, 2013
    5:16 pm

    Anytime you want to go OCD on my kitchen your more than welcome!

    • March 31, 2013
      5:36 pm

      I tend to throw things away though… Word of warning. :)

  • March 31, 2013
    5:42 pm

    Half of it all probably needs tossing – I still have pans from before I was married!

  • April 1, 2013
    12:57 pm

    My kitchen is in dire need of an organization overhaul. I attempted the pantry this weekend and can I say, besides fearing that it all would collapse on me, when I was able to get a couple shelves organized and purged, it looked really good. Now the kitchen pot cabinet – well, let’s just say I need a cocktail (or two) first.

  • April 2, 2013
    10:09 am

    Great cleaning tips! OK. NOW I’m motivated to Spring clean-no more excuses!
    BTW, I just wanted to thank you for posting your ‘East African Sweet Potato Soup’recipe. It was A HUGE HIT at my house. (My boyfriend had just returned from a business trip in Africa so it was a very timely post)! Two changes that I made to the recipe..instead of onions, I used shallots and also after helping ourselves to our first serving, I left the pot on the stove (oops)and the liquid almost thoroughly boiled down thus creating more of a stew like consistency for our 2nd and third helpings.It was EXCELLENT both ways. So tasty.It’s definitely a keeper. (as a soup or stew)! Thanks!

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